Some businesses affected by recent tornado are open

With the road closures and construction taking place along Main Street, local downtown business owners are eager to let people know they are open.

Hellberg’s Jewelers and Art & Frame on Main, both located at 13 W. Main Street, opened about a week after the July 19 tornado, with minimal damage to the stores. Remarkably, neither business sustained window damages.

“I slid the door shut to our business — which is 12 feet wide — and Pam did the same across the hall,” owner Vic Hellberg said. “The three front doors and the back door were not locked, and I think that’s what saved all of our glass, because those doors were sucked open and the broken glass and debris came 40 feet down the hallway, but not in our stores. The pressures got to stabilize for a second while it all (the tornado) went through.”

After the building’s occupants emerged from their shelter in the basement, they found the merchandise in the stores to be in tact.

Hellberg and his wife Gayle own the building, and lease the space next to their store to Pam Swarts, who owns and operates Art & Frame on Main.

“When we came up, it was surprising to see debris all the way down our center hallway, but it was also gratifying to look in our stores and see everything was perfectly in tact. There were no broken windows,” Swarts said. “Personally, I think those white stone arches saved us, plus the fact that our display windows are recessed a little bit. We kind of think our little pocket here could be a ‘miracle on Main.'”

Swarts opened her shop, originally called The Perfect Setting, back in 2006. She offers a variety of one-of-a-kind artwork, home decor and related gifts. Hellberg’s great-grandfather William Hellberg emigrated from Sweden, founding the business in 1898. It has been situated at its present locale since 1973.

“They were talking immediately about smelling gas in the downtown — people were talking about it on the street, and then I went out the back door, and Chief Tupper was back there, and he said evacuate all those buildings right away, so we just locked up and left,” Hellberg said. “The west door in front blew so hard open that it popped it off the hinges, so we couldn’t even get it closed. We didn’t get electricity back until the Tuesday after the tornado.”

Even though Swarts and the Hellbergs are fortunate to not have sustained any damage to their merchandise, the tornado’s residual effects on Main Street are still acutely felt.

“It’s a mixed bag. You have the Chamber doing good work trying to get the word out about who is open, and then we have all the stories about all the streets that are closed because of workmen and there’s so much construction going on and so many trucks parked here and there, that people don’t know that you’re open,” Hellberg said. “Many of us are still here doing business and are ready — just make the effort to get to us.”

Lynn Olberding, who serves as executive director of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce, has been busy reaching out to the downtown businesses impacted by the storm.

“It is truly amazing how quickly some of our downtown businesses got reopened following the tornado. In fact, some were not closed more than a day or two,” Olberding said. “The Chamber, along with Marshall Economic Development and the Marshalltown Central Business District (MCBD), has been working to connect with businesses and let building and business owners know what resources are available. We had a tremendous turn out for our building and business owners meeting on Aug. 1, where attendees heard from the city, Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Small Business Administration (SBA), Main Street Iowa, MCBD and our office about how we can help in the recovery and rebuilding process.”

On the Chamber’s Facebook page, Olberding frequently posts an updated list of the downtown businesses that are open. If you need an “open for business” sign, the Chamber is able to drop one off to your place of business.

“We want people to remember that our local businesses need our support now, but also in the days, weeks and months ahead,” Olberding said. “Six months from now when things are more and more back to normal, we want everyone to think local first. Ask yourself if you can purchase the good or service you need from a local business. If the answer is yes, please support these local businesses.”

Olberding may be reached at 641-753-6645 and lolberding@marshalltown.org

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com